One of the more consistent gripes that we come across when interviewing independent MMOG developers is that current online worlds are too focused on just creating pretty sandboxes. Players are dazzled by beautiful graphics and seamless gameplay, but ultimately you're on a ride through a theme park of someone else's creation. You buy a monthly ticket, you know what you're getting and your individual impact on the world itself is approximately zilch.
Undoubtedly, there are a lot of players who like it that way, especially in the wake of World Of Warcraft, but there's certainly a market for attracting others who want to be in charge of their world as much as the world is in charge of them. The Saga Of Ryzom went a little way down this route, with some success. Now enter Face Of Mankind from Frankfurt-based Duplex Systems. FOM takes place in Earth's 24th century, when population surges and intergalactic colonisation have left the world divided into various factions and organisations who continually vie for economic and military control.
Unlike in most online role-playing games, Duplex claims that you'll have
a unique role in shaping the Face Of Mankind world. Part of this is down to the unprecedented levels of player-centric activity within the ten factions in the game (see 'Top Ten', right). All the items in FOM are player-made, meaning that you'll have a very direct influence over your economy. Many of the missions, campaigns and agendas will be created by you too, which impacts heavily on the way the world works.
"True player involvement is really missing in current MMOGs," claims Marko Dieckmann, MD of Duplex Systems. "The current standard involves players taking part in all kinds of pre-created content, and the option for them to create their own content is rather limited. Even with item creation, the items you create aren't really important for the game's economics. It's the same with missions: you often have the option to create small missions like assassinations, but they don't have a true influence on the game."
The mission system certainly looks like being one of the key features of Face Of Mankind - if you're prepared to put the work in that is, especially at the higher levels. Dieckmann goes on to explain that the mission system will consist of agendas, campaigns and missions. An agenda is a basic guideline for the faction, created by the faction leader. Campaigns, meanwhile, are complex mission pools that can be created by the highest-ranking players for the good of their faction. Plans are to create numerous types of campaigns covering nearly every purpose, such as offensive, defensive or even economic campaigns. Missions can only be created by mid-rank to high-rank players for a specific campaign.
NO 'I' IN TEAM
The factional structure of the game, in which alliances and inter-factional wars are a constant part of the world, means that Face Of Mankind is heavily focused on you as a member of a team rather than you as the lone hero. Dieckmann asserts that this is merely a reflection of what we're used to in our everyday lives: "In our current human society everyone can have a small impact, but you can only really turn things around if you work with others. This is reflected in the game. You're part of a faction and all your actions impact on the survival of your faction. By working as a team, you can cause colony takeover, declaration of wars, allying, market domination and much more!"
It sounds complicated and if the current open beta is anything to go by, then it's certainly gearing up to focus its attentions squarely on the hardcore market. Face Of Mankind currently has a pretty steep learning curve, one that's practically vertical when compared to something like WOW. Dieckmann insists that Duplex is working to make the game more user-friendly in its initial stages, which is often a game's most important make-or-break period.